Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

Women Reservation Bill – A Bill of Responsibility and Representation

Swami Vivekananda once said “Women must be put in a position to solve their own problems in their own way. No one can or ought to do this for them. And our Indian women are capable of doing it as any in the world.”

Women, as we see today, are excelling in almost all sectors along with their male counterparts, and history is witness to the brilliance of women in all major fields. But when it comes to politics, participation of women is quite low in spite of the fact that India witnessed the rise of many powerful women political leaders, from Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, Sushma Swaraj as first female Chief Minister of Delhi, to Smriti Irani, Meenakshi Lekhi, Nirmala Sitharaman and now Draupadi Murmu being India’s female President.

The domain of politics has always been questioned on the issue of representation of women in it, on women led development politics as also women led governance. The passing of the Women Reservation Bill (WRB) or Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, is an affirmative action towards empowering women that will cement the rightful representation of Indian women by helping them break the glass ceilings of politics. It is indeed a step forward towards gender balance and gender justice, thereby encouraging more participation of women in Indian politics.

The Bill specifies that it seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.  The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament. One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be applicable for women of those groups as well, in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies. Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose personal initiatives helped break the legacy logjams surrounding the bill, and helped its passage with near consensus in parliament, said

“With the passage of the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam in Parliament, we usher in an era of stronger representation and empowerment for the women of India. This is not merely a legislation; it is a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation. India has been enriched by their resilience and contributions. As we celebrate today, we are reminded of the strength, courage, and indomitable spirit of all the women of our nation. This historic step is a commitment to ensuring their voices are heard even more effectively.” 

Delighted at the passage of The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 in the Lok Sabha with such phenomenal support. I thank MPs across Party lines who voted in support of this Bill. The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam is a historic legislation which will further boost women empowerment and will enable even greater participation of women in our political process.”

The bill was supported by almost all MP across parties and got 454 votes in its favour, with the exception of only 2 votes against it. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his party MP Imtiaz Jaleel voted against the women’s reservation bill in Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha also passed the WRB unopposed by 215 – 0 votes.

Women participation is not only low in India but globally too. Only 24% of the global legislative members constitute women. And India, out of 193 countries, stands on 150th position in having the total percentage of women as legislators. In the lower house, women constitute 12.6% of total members and in the upper house, they constitute 11.5% of total members. The obstructions and barriers to entry for women legislators are much higher as they have to contend with several social, cultural, economic, institutional, and structural issues. One way to overcome these challenges was through quotas or reservations, as rights.

Women in general avoid politics for multiple reasons that range from perceived notions, misinformation, and discouragement. Be it socio-cultural norms, traditional outlook and structures, household and marital barriers, perceived lack of political knowledge, gender imbalance leading to concerns of safety and issues of comfortability outside the home structure, as well as religious preachings that imposes beliefs that politics is supposed to be a male-dominated bastion and women are not supposed to participate in those states of affairs.

Further, there are enough evidence of many political parties having a rigid patriarchal mindset, and whose leaderships themselves prevent the rise of women or belittle the diligence and labour of female party workers in their respective parties or in politics in general. Importantly, it is seen that even when women are able to access formal political power, it is not always coupled with considerable political participation. This is because the informal homosocial networks remain strong and constantly work to keep women out of the political reach.

The current ruling dispensation at the Centre, the BJP led NDA, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, has taken the approach to eliminate all such discriminations, and have strived to encourage more women to have political say by rejecting the traditional patriarchal mindset. Gender balance has always been encouraged within BJP as a part of a long-term reform process. Empowering women and harnessing female talent are central to the party’s growth strategy. Often, every department within BJP would be asked to look out for suitable women candidates for elections, or to work as officer-bearers in important positions. In 2019, it fielded more female candidates than any other party and appointed more female ministers than any of the previous governments. It also revamped the party’s organisational structure, brought in quotas for women and expanded its social base to fit in more women from rural and poorer backgrounds.

The BJP has a history of enabling it’s female politicians to take leadership roles in powerful ministries such as late Sushma Swaraj who served as the first female Chief Minister of Delhi, besides holding position of Minister of External Affairs and being the only second person to complete a 5-year term as the Minister of External Affairs, after Jawaharlal Nehru.

Also, Nirmala Sitaraman was the first full-time female Defence Minister and now holding the crucial portfolio of Minister of Finance and Minister of Corporate Affairs. Smriti Irani currently has been serving as Minister of Women and Child Development since 2019, and also Minister of Minority Affairs who previously served as Minister of Human Resource Development, Minister of Textiles and Minister of Information and Broadcasting. She was the youngest minister (at age of 43) in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Council of Ministers in 2019. and has been an MP since 2011, serving in the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat from 2011 to 2019 and since 2019 serving as a member of the Lok Sabha from the Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

And presently, it is the BJP led by PM Narendra Modi that pushed forward and brought the WRB to see the light of the day, that could not to be passed for 27 years, in the past, by any of the previous regimes. Under PM Modi’s leadership, this was achieved this time despite stiff resistance, roadblocks and delaying tactics by oppositions.

This reform ushered in by PM Modi led NDA Government, would surely go a long way in making India’s 360-degree development far more pragmatic and inclusive in the long run.

(The Writer is a Researcher on Policy and Governance, Entrepreneurship and Livelihood Clusters of NE. She is also a member of the Assam Youth Commission. The views expressed are her own.)